Friends of Historic Woolsey

Preserving Our Yesterdays for Tomorrow 

A Special Day at Woolsey Baptist Church

Apr 10, 2023 by Richard McLean

The date was 20 March 1992, I was at Woolsey Baptist Church presiding over the interment of my brother-in-law William Wesley (Budd) Blum. It was a hectic day having conducted a memorial service in Aiken, South Carolina that morning and driving to Woolsey, Georgia for the burial. Over the span of my ministry, I had conducted many funerals, but in looking back I realize that the last three times I was in the church of my birth were related to saying “goodbye” to treasured family members. Budd’s service was to be my penultimate burial, followed six years later at Woolsey Baptist by the funeral of my sister Mildred, Budd’s wife.

In terms of my personal history, Budd’s service was not remarkable to me at the time. But since, my awareness of the story of my birth family has grown in no small part because of the contributions of my father Oliver McLean who was a consummate storyteller in the best of oral traditions. Built on his knowledge, Budd Blum and his daughter Linda continued to expand and clarify our story.

When my mother Ella Mae died in my 16th month, her brother-in-law and wife Clinton and Opal McLean adopted me. After that my visits to the Woolsey area were limited to occasional weekends and summer vacations. However, those visits were cherished moments as my daddy spent most of his time with me like a doting granddaddy. Those moments were seminal in affirming and elevating the influence of the Woolsey and Antioch Baptist Churches and surrounding communities. They significantly shaped my journey through life till this day.

Following the service, community members organized a reception. This was an important family gathering allowing folks from many locations to reunite with family members and share special moments. Many of the folks had travelled long distance and this reunion was a cherished occasion. Though I didn’t know it at the time, conducting the service was providential because of one special moment that occurred during the reception. During that late afternoon, my cousin Frank Whitaker Jones, Jr. and I were engaged in an exchange about something my mother told him. Frank was the person who as a 23-year-old young man later drove me along with other siblings from Fayette County to the Georgia Baptist Hospital in Atlanta where Mother lay dying. Earlier during her illness when he was visiting with her, Frank shared something his Aunt Ella Mae told him. My mother’s revelation to Frank? “I think Richard will be a preacher.”

That exchange is unforgettable, for I was 57 years and four months of age and I never before heard of my mother’s prediction. That was a wise woman whose maternal discernment manifested the depth of her faith. Sitting here, I would like to say I was stunned when Frank told me, but I don’t remember my feelings at the time. I had been immersed in the spiritual ethos of Fayette County, Georgia; experienced the love and affirmation of a loving pastor in West End Atlanta; made a profession of faith in the West End Baptist Church; answered the call to ministry at Ridgecrest, North Carolina; attended Seminary to prepare myself; accepted a call as Associate Pastor of First Baptist Church in Saint Petersburg, Florida; responded to a sense of calling to become a United States Army Chaplain in 1967; served 20 years as an Army Chaplain including two years away from my family on hardship tours; retired from the Army and responded to a new direction by attending the Episcopal Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, Texas; subsequently being ordained to the Episcopal priesthood and serving as pastor of joint missions in Central Texas. In retrospect, what my mother shared with her nephew was a stunning discovery, and I must say most confirming of the narrative of my life, a narrative resonant with the heart and soul of the prescient woman who lay at rest not 50 yards from where we stood.